As we grow through our early years and make the gradual transition from childhood to adulthood, it can be challenging to hold on to that earnest spark of optimism that we all had as kids. We start voting and paying taxes and fighting grown-up battles, and suddenly we’ve forgotten the endless possibilities of life ahead in our youth.
One young girl set out to remind the world of that hope. Her love and compassion for others was so selfless that she set aside her own wishes to raise money for strangers who needed it — and she was almost at her goal when a tragic accident changed the course of her efforts and her life.
Rachel Beckwith had always been passionate about helping others. The Seattle native started young, buzzing her hair off for Locks of Love after learning about their wig-making program for sick children. She was only 5.
After the chop, Rachel grew her hair out, with the plan of donating it again once it had grown long enough to make a wig. She was true to her word. “She said she wanted to help the cancer kids,” mom Samantha Paul said.
So, in 2011, when Rachel’s church began fundraising for a nonprofit called charity: water, she naturally wanted to help. She’d never heard of the organization, which builds wells to provide clean water to rural places in Africa, before.
Stunned that others had no access to such a basic need, Rachel decided to hold her own fundraiser for her 9th birthday. She set up her own charity: water fundraiser page, and asked friends and family to donate $9 instead of buying a birthday gift.
The fundraiser started off well. At $300, Rachel’s donation goal was modest, but would go a long way. According to the charity: water website, just $20 was enough to provide one person with clean water for about twenty years.
As June 12th, Rachel’s birthday, neared, her fundraiser wasn’t quite at its goal. She had raised $220 — eighty dollars short — and was a little disappointed, but happy that she would be able to contribute something to the cause.
Rachel’s birthday came and went. Then Independence Day came and went. She put fundraising out of her mind and enjoyed typical summertime activities, content that her birthday donations had done something good for the world. And online, her charity: water page sat quietly, inactive until next year.
Then, on July 20th, everything changed. Rachel and her younger sister, Sienna, were in the car with their mom, driving west on I-90 outside of Seattle. It was a Wednesday morning like any other — but not for long.
Suddenly, the vehicle careened forward. A semi trucker who wasn’t paying attention had jackknifed into a logging truck, and then rear-ended their car. Logs fell everywhere, and thirteen vehicles were damaged in the pileup.
By the time paramedics arrived, the scene was chaos. Other drivers were shaken, but not badly hurt. Sienna and Samantha were okay, but horrified. Rachel wasn’t responding, and EMTs pulled her from the wreckage and rushed her to the hospital.
KING 5 Seattle
The family waited in the ward for signs of hope, but there was none to share. Doctors broke the news that Rachel’s spinal and head injuries were too grave for them to save her. They had a few days before Rachel would go off life support.
The family was devastated. As their precious daughter lay dying, they turned back to their church community for comfort. It was the same church that had opened Rachel’s eyes to serving others, and pastor Ryan Meeks had heard of her charity:water fundraiser.
Together In This / YouTube
Meeks was in Africa at the time, touring water projects, and wanted to help the family. He got in touch with charity:water founder Scott Harrison, asking him to reopen Rachel’s fundraiser so he could donate the last $80 for her goal.
Touched by the story, Harrison gladly obliged, and spread the word about Rachel. Back home, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who was also a member of the family’s church and had been to Malawi to help charity: water, tweeted the fundraiser link out to his followers.
After that, it wasn’t long before the media got wind of the tragedy and of Rachel’s birthday selflessness. The story spread, the donations began to pour in. By the time of Rachel’s death on July 23rd, the campaign was up to $22,400.
The Issaquah Press
By August 10th, that number had skyrocketed to more than $850,000, and when the campaign ended on September 30th, it had raised $1,265,823.90 from 31,997 donations. It was the most successful fundraiser in charity: water history.
Over the years, Samantha kept her daughter’s tradition going with 13 other smaller campaigns. They brought the total number of funds Rachel raised to $1,429,575 — and counting.
With those funds, 206 community water projects were built. Many of these were wells, groundwater purification filters, sanitation equipment, pipe systems with taps, school latrines, and handwashing stations.
Rachel’s funds also helped Ethiopia’s Relief Society of Tigray purchase a drilling rig, a vehicle which travels throughout the country and can drill up to 80 wells per year, providing water access to 40,000 new people.
Rachel’s wish is still supported today, and her mom has kept her charity:water community page open for people to write notes and contribute. She would be happy to know that other kids are following her example too.
Jeff and Julie Bryan had a flood of happiness rush at them on the day their daughter Addie was born. That unbridled joy that day didn’t last long, however. Addie almost didn’t make it.
The moment they laid eyes on Addie, the Bryans saw something was wrong. Their baby had hip dysplasia, a club foot, and two knees that bent backwards. With a rare case of Larsen syndrome, the doctors doubted she’d ever walk.
Just days old, Addie underwent her first surgery. Dozens and dozens more followed over the next few years, with the Bryans estimating that their daughter went through 70 casts throughout her early childhood.
The Bryans placed their full faith in the staff of Texas Scottish Rite Hospital, located near their home in Dallas. Over the years, it built a sterling reputation for treating orthopedic conditions, particularly in children.
After years of medical intervention, there still wasn’t assurance that Addy would be able to lead a normal childhood. But amid all the darkness, the Bryans still clung tightly to a glimmer of hope — one member especially.
By the time she reached seven years old, Addy didn’t see herself as any different from other kids. She made the best of everything, despite her situation. Soon, her results began to impress everyone around her.
Though her legs still retained a slightly bent shape, Addie’s range of movement grew by leaps and bounds. Before long, she started to spend more time zipping around on her scooter than cooped up in the hospital.
And that wasn’t all. She could even run! Everyone understood that she had come an incredibly long way from her troubled infancy. There was no doubt about Addie’s good fortune, but something started to nag at her.
With her eighth birthday approaching, Addie knew she was incredibly lucky. Thanks to the folks at Scottish Rite Hospital, she could run, walk, and jump wherever she wanted. Addie only hoped every other kid could do the same.
One morning, Julie Bryan found her daughter tallying up her meager life’s savings. Addie shocked her by saying that she wasn’t just doing this for fun. She was looking to make a donation.
Addie wanted to make a real difference for the Scottish Rite Hospital in the form of a donation. Her mom suggested she open a lemonade stand with a couple friends to raise more money, but ultimately, that tactic only raised $60.
So, knowing she needed to get more aggressive, she grabbed a marker and some poster board and drew up a sign requesting donations for the hospital. Then, she ran out to her street corner in hopes of collecting a fortune.
Despite the sweltering Texas heat, Addie had an easy time standing on the corner once she saw the contributions roll in. Neighbors and complete strangers alike seemed happy to help out even if it was with just a few dollars.
After a couple months, Addie had built up a nice pile of money. Still, she was really looking to make a big fundraising leap in the final weeks before her birthday. Addie thought she could expand her operations beyond the street corner.
Addie and her parents reached out to a local restaurant called the Cotton Patch Cafe. They agreed to hold a charity event, and Addie went all out! Channeling her inner Pat Sajak, she set up a wheel of prizes to pack the house.
By the time her eighth birthday rolled around, Addie raised a whopping $19,500 for the hospital. For an institution that relied so much on charitable donations, this was huge. Not even Addie’s parents could believe she singlehandedly raised such a sum.
Her efforts gained a lot of attention. A number of outlets shared her story, from her local news station to People magazine! A live TV interview was a good birthday present, to be sure, but Addie was about to get a better one.
FOX 4 News
Stephanie Brigger, the hospital’s Vice President of Development, called the Bryans to share some big news: an anonymous donor felt so touched by Addie’s story that he decided to share a contribution of his own.
The Good Samaritan sent Scottish Rite an additional $50,000 in Addie’s name. That meant this eight year old’s donation totaled just under 70k! Most people couldn’t believe it, but this was exactly what Addie wanted.
She said she was glad to give so many other kids a shot at a happy life, as her gift could provide countless casts and prosthetics. Addie Bryan didn’t need anything else for her birthday. She proved that the best gift is giving back.
We tend to underestimate just how big a difference young people can make. But especially in the age of social media, they can truly change lives. When 18-year-old Tyrel Wolfe received an unusual friend request on Facebook one afternoon, he wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Ty Wolfe / Facebook
The request was from a young Filipino woman named Joana Marchan, and Tyrel was certain that they’d never met, let alone even been in the same country. Believing it to be just another scam, Tyrel declined the invitation.
Several years passed, and the strange friend request became a distant memory. He wasn’t much for Facebook anymore, but while casually checking his profile one day he noticed a new request in his inbox. The sender? Joana Marchan.
Tyrel’s interest was piqued, but his parents, wary of the type of people you find online, were understandably worried about this interest in their son. Still, Tyrel couldn’t resist getting to the bottom of this mystery. He opened the request and clicked “Confirm.”
Tyrel messaged the young woman, whose response only made things even more unclear: “you know about the Samaritan’s purse?” Tyrel was dumbfounded. What could this possibly mean? Was it some sort of code? Then, all at once, it hit him.
Samaritan’s Purse was a non-profit through which a seven-year-old Tyrel had donated a shoebox full of gifts as part of a charity program called Operation Christmas Child. But why, 11 years later, was this stranger from the Philippines contacting him about Christmas presents? And, most importantly, how did she know about his donation?
Then, Joana came clean: it was she that had received Tyrel’s shoebox all those years ago! Tyrel was blown away by the news, but even so, he was still skeptical of the young woman’s motivations. After all, how was he to know if “Joana” was really who she said she was? He needed proof.
Tyrel questioned Joana about the contents of his gift, but she was unable to recall anything specific about the shoebox. He was ready to write her off, but at the last minute, Joana brought up one key item that proved she was telling the truth.
In the original shoebox, Tyrel had included a picture of himself at the time of the donation. Joana recalled the photo in perfect detail, describing his “cute cowboy” outfit and the “wooden background” of the image. Without a doubt, Joana was exactly who she said she was — and the story of she and Tyrel was only just beginning.
Ty Wolfe / Facebook
Though most would go their separate ways after a one-off encounter like this, Tyrel and Joana stayed in touch and soon discovered they shared many of the same interests. Eventually, the pair was talking every day, and their Facebook chats soon blossomed into a fully-fledged friendship.
Over the next year and a half, Tyrel began saving up in the hope of visiting Joana after he graduated high school. As soon as he’d met his goal, he messaged Joana and immediately booked the next flight to the Philippines.
Long plane rides are rough on everyone, but being that Tyrel had never left the country alone before, the 14-hour trip from Idaho to the Philippines was especially tough. But no matter how difficult the journey, it was all worth it for Tyrel when he arrived to find Joana and her family waiting at the airport to welcome him.
What was meant to be a short visit for Tyrel became a month-long stay as he and Joana discovered that their connection was deeper and more real than they could’ve ever imagined. It was clear that the Facebook friends were becoming something much more.
Ty Wolfe / Facebook
Unfortunately, Tyrel had to say goodbye to Joana, but he knew in his heart that he couldn’t stay away for long. Putting in extra hours of part-time work between his college classes, Tyrel scrounged up enough money to make another trip back to the Philippines.
His second trip to see Joana was even better than the first, and it wasn’t long before the two had fallen in love. After learning a good amount of Tagalog – the native language of the Philippines – Tyrel approached Joana’s father to ask for one very important thing: his daughter’s hand in marriage.
Joana’s father agreed in a heartbeat, but her mother, fearing the couple was moving fast, was hesitant to give her blessing. Tyrel was heartbroken, but the young man was unwilling to leave the Philippines without the woman he loved by his side.
In a last-ditch effort, Tyrel convinced his father to fly in from Idaho to meet Joana and hopefully ease the tensions between him and her family. After several weeks of discussions, Tyrel and his father finally persuaded Joana’s mother to agree to the proposal.
In October of 2014, just five months after their engagement, the couple wed in a simple ceremony at Tyrel’s parents’ ranch. In lieu of wedding gifts, the newlyweds made an unusual request that brought their unconventional love story full circle.
Tyrel Wolfe / Facebook
Tyrel and Joana asked that each guest bring a shoebox of gifts to be donated to none other than Samaritan’s Purse! They also asked their guests to include a note about Tyrel and Joana’s story in each box to show how one small act of kindness can completely change someone’s life.
San Ynez Valley Star
After their wedding, Joana agreed to leave her home in the Philippines behind in favor of small-town life with Tyrel in Idaho. Their quiet country home was soon filled with the pitter patter of tiny feet, as not long after Joana gave birth to their first child, a baby boy named Harlann Jun Wolfe.
Marvin Quemado / Facebook
Even with lives made busy by work and parenting, Tyrel and Joana still make it a tradition to deliver shoe boxes every year. It might not seem like much, but as the unlikely couple can attest to: you never know what kind of good can come from a shoe box.